#Snowpack news: Weekend storm fizzles percent of normal dropping

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

And here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for November 23, 2020.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map November 23, 2020 via the NRCS.

Consulting firm gives update on ongoing analysis pertaining to San Juan Water Conservancy District’s water rights — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

An update was given on Wilson Water Group’s (WWG) efforts in completing a water use and water demand analysis for the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) and completing a water availability analysis for the West Fork reservoir and canal water rights during a regular meeting on Monday.

WWG was hired by the SJWCD via a board decision at a Sept. 21 meeting for a cost of $19,050 and will complete the efforts by the end of 2020.

Currently, WWG has been working on its first task, which is to develop a water demand analysis strategy, Project Engineer Brenna Mefford noted, adding that the first task would be completed in the next week or so.

The next task, to complete a current water use and water demand analysis, will be completed soon after, Mefford explained.

Task three, which is to complete a water availability analysis, will be started in December, Mefford added…

If the SJWCD were to go through with diligence on the West Fork water rights, it would have to show it has a potential demand for the water and that the district needs it, Mefford explained, adding that the SJWCD needs to show water availability.

“Finally, you have to show that you have the means to develop that water and put it to that use that you had identified earlier,” she said…

“We’ve talked to most of the people we planned to try and fig- ure out how we’re going to lay out this analysis and now we’re going to move into task two, where we’re actually going to do the current water use and water demand analysis. For this task there are a few more people that we need to reach out to and have talks with about water demand,” Mefford said, adding that WWG will need to talk to PAWSD, for example.

@Boulder and @CañonCity have been going in opposite directions since the 1870s. They did so again in their utility franchise votes — The Mountain Town News

Skyline Drive at night Cañon City. Photo credit: Vista Works via Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Beyond both being in Colorado and along the state’s Front Range, Boulder and Cañon City could not be more different. The differences go back to the state’s founding.

Cañon City had the choice of getting the state penitentiary or the state university. It chose the former, so Boulder got the latter.

In both cities, a franchise vote with the existing utility provider was on the ballot on Nov. 2. This time, they went in different directions once again. The fulcrum in both cases was cost, if the formula was more complex in the case of Boulder.

Boulder voters, after exploring municipalization for a decade, agreed to a new 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel Energy. Xcel had continued to supply the city’s residents with electricity after the last franchise agreement lapsed in 2010.

The new agreement garnered 56% voter approval. Even some strong supporters of the effort to municipalize had agreed that the effort by the city to create its own utility had taken too long and cost too much money, more than $20 million, with many millions more expected. They attributed this to the power of Xcel to block the effort.

Boulder’s effort had been driven primarily by the belief that a city utility could more rapidly embrace renewables and effect the changes needed to create a new utility model. In short, climate change was the driver, although proponents also argued that creation of a city utility would save consumers in the long run. Consumers just weren’t willing to wait long enough.

Going forward, Boulder will have several off-ramps if Xcel stumbles on the path toward decarbonization of its electrical supply. The city will also retain its place in the legal standings, if you will, should that be the case. Also, Xcel agreed to a process intended to advance microgrids and other elements, although critics describe that as toothless. Undergrounding of electrical lines in Boulder will not commence anew as a result of the new franchise agreement.

Cañon City is Colorado’s yin to Boulder’s yang. Located along the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado, it has become more conservative politically even as Boulder has shifted progressive. In the November election, 69% of votes in Fremont County—where Cañon City is located—went for Donald Trump, who got 21% of votes in Boulder County

Economically, they walk on opposite sides of the street, too. The statewide median income in Colorado in 2018 was $68,811. Boulder County stood a shoulder above (and Boulder itself likely even more) at $78,642. Fremont County was at waist level at $46,296.

And along the Arkansas River…

Cañon City also went in the opposite direction of Boulder in the matter of its franchise. There were differences, of course. Boulder turned its back on municipalization in accepting a new franchise.

In Cañon, about 65% of voters rejected a franchise agreement with Black Hills Energy, Colorado’s second investor-owned electrical utility. The city council had approved it, but the city charter also required voter approval.

Unlike in Boulder, decarbonization and reinvention was not overtly among the topic points. Some people in Cañon City do care about decarbonizing electricity, says Emily Tracy, the leader of a group called Cañon City’s Energy Future, which she put together in January 2018. But the cost of electricity was the fulcrum and, she believes, a reflection of how the community feels about Black Hills.

The old franchise agreement with Black Hills expired in 2017. Tracy and other members of Cañon City’s Energy Future persuaded council members to put off a new agreement but failed in their bid to have a community dialogue.

“The power industry, the electric industry, are so different than they used to be, and we simply want the city to explore its options,” she says.

In stories in the Pueblo Chieftain and Cañon City Daily Record, city officials said they had evaluated options before seeking to get voter approval of the franchise.

Partially in play was the effort underway in nearby Pueblo to break away from Black Hills and form a municipal utility. The thought was that if Pueblo voters approved that effort, Canon City could piggyback to the new utility. The proposal lost by a lopsided May vote after a campaign that featured $1.5 million in advertising and other outreach by a pro-Black Hills group.

Black Hills rates are among the highest in Colorado. Tracy illustrates by citing those she pays to Xcel Energy in Breckenridge, where she has a second home.

“I pay 77% more for a kilowatt-hour of electricity for my house in Cañon City than I do to Xcel in Breckenridge,” she says.

This is from the Nov. 20, 2020, issue of Big Pivots, which chronicles the great energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Sign up for copies at BigPivots.com.

Opponents of the franchise renewal were heavily outspent in the campaign. Records that Tracy’s group got from the city clerk showed $41,584 in spending by Power Cañon City, the pro-Black Hills group, through mid-October. Tracy’s group spent less than $5,000, counting in-kind contributions. Tracy suspects that Black Hills didn’t entirely take the vote seriously.

Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Cañon City Council. Tracy hopes for more transparent discussion about the options.

But it’s all about the money.

“You take a poor community like Cañon City or Pueblo, then add in the fact that we’re paying the highest electricity rates in the state, and there’s no doubt it has an impact on families, businesses and attempts to do economic development,” says Tracy.

Frances Koncilja, a former member of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has offered her legal assistance to Cañon City’s Energy Future.

As for why Cañon City wanted the state prison instead of the state university in the early years of Colorado’s statehood, keep in mind the times. Crime did pay for Cañon City in the 19th century, when few people had or needed college degrees. It was well into the 20th century before this shift toward greater education began.

Understanding abandoned #water rights — The Rio Blanco Herald-Times

From the Colorado Ag Alliance (Phil Brink, Greg Peterson) via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

Every 10 years, the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ (DWR) publishes its water right abandonment list. The list — released on July 1, 2020 — represents water rights that each division engineer is recommending for abandonment based on real or perceived non-use over the last 10 years. A water right may be placed on the abandonment list if the amount of water diverted over the past 10 years is less than the decreed amount.

The DWR defines abandonment as “the termination of an absolute water right in whole or in part as a result of the intent of the owner to permanently discontinue the use of the water under that water right.” It is rare that an agricultural water right holder actually intends to abandon their water right.

“There can be several reasons why the decreed amount is not diverted in a given year or for multiple years” says water attorney David Kueter of Holsinger Law in Denver. The water source may be dry, or the water right may not be in priority at times when the field needs to be irrigated. Timely precipitation may reduce the need for irrigation. Repair or replacement of irrigation infrastructure — from headgates to ditches to land application equipment — may temporarily prevent diversion of water. Economic, health or legal obstacles can all stymie intentions to fully utilize a water right. Sediment and debris flows can block diversion structures and river and stream hydrology can change, rendering a diversion structure semi-functional or even non-functional. New property owners may not be aware of their water rights.

Management changes can also impact use. A few years ago, Mike Camblin, rancher and manager of the Maybell Ditch, took over irrigation of some fields that had not been fertilized previously. The addition of fertilizer increased grass production three-fold, which also increased the field’s consumptive use of water.

Increased consumptive use may also result from warmer summers, which are predicted by climate models. CSU research has found that evapotranspiration comprises more than 99 percent of plant water use. Increased temperatures drive forage and crop consumptive use higher. Cutting ag water rights down to their current consumptive use will permanently hurt growers’ ability to adapt to a warmer climate.

Water users who wish to challenge termination of their water right due to abandonment should file a written statement of objection with the Division 6 Engineer. An objection statement is needed for each water right. The deadline for filing is July 1, 2021, but Kueter recommends getting started now as it may take time to pull together supporting evidence. “Usually there are no silver bullets,” says Kueter, “it’s more the totality of the circumstances that caused the water right to be under-utilized.”

A water right is removed from the abandonment list if the Division Engineer agrees with the supporting evidence provided. A revised abandonment list will be published by Jan. 31, 2022. Protests to the revised list must be filed with division Water Court by June 30, 2022. The Water Court will begin considering protests in October 2022.

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance will be hosting a workshop on this and other issues on Dec. 7 in Craig.

Phil Brink is the Consulting Coordinator of Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK. Greg Peterson is the Executive Director of Colorado Ag Water Alliance.